245.4 The Freedom of Information Act exemptions have differed from the Schedule 12A exemptions in that some are absolute, so that information need never be disclosed; whilst others are qualified exemptions, and may be disclosed subject to the “public interest test”. Many of those relevant to the Council carry a “public interest test”, that is, we have to ask the question under the Freedom of Information Act “Is it in the public interest to disclose the information, or is it in the public interest to continue to withhold it?”.
245.5 There will be occasions when items must be “in exempt” for a period of time, (e.g. until a contract is let) but not remain so indefinitely. The period of time could range from 1 day to several years. To meet the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act in providing information within 20 days of the request, in June 2005 Council agreed a delegation to the Monitoring Officer to allow her to authorise the disclosure of the information, where appropriate, in response to a Freedom of Information request made at a later date. This will be carried out in consultation with the Information Rights Officer and the author of the report. The Monitoring Officer is the “Responsible Officer” for authorising Section 36 Exemptions (Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) under the Freedom of Information Act.
245.6 The Variation Order substitutes a new Schedule 12A, replacing some of the descriptions of exempt information with new text, which it is intended will be simpler and clearer. Some of the earlier provisions “qualifying” exemptions, so that they may not be permanent, are replaced by a public interest test.
Changes in 2006: Access for Members
245.7 Amendments are also made to provide additional rights of access to documents for members of the Council. These are rights that are exclusively reserved for members of the Council, and do not have any effect on the rights of the general public to access to documents.
245.8 Under the earlier provisions (although it was not common practice in Waverley) the proper officer was not required to disclose to members specified “exempt” classes of information, (for example, information relating to a particular employee), including members of the relevant Committees, except on a need to know basis. [Members are regarded as having a “need to know” where knowledge of the contents will support them in performing their duties as councillors effectively]. It is now provided that information is required to be open to inspection by members of the Council
· where it relates to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information) except to the extent that it relates to proposals in the course of negotiations for a contract,
· where it discloses that the Council is going to give notice imposing requirements on a person (e.g. a noise abatement notice) or to make an order or direction (e.g. an Article 4 Direction restricting permitted development rights).
245.9 The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Access to Information) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2006 extend the effect of the Variation Order to Councils with Executive arrangements.
245.10 The Variation Order also revises the categories of papers that may be exempt from disclosure. It will be necessary for officers preparing reports, and for members, to become familiar with the new categories in the revised Schedule 12A.
245.11 Simultaneously with the Variation Order, the Government has issued the Relevant Authorities (Standards Committee) Amendment Regulations 2006 to make changes for access to information received by the Standards Committee to reflect the changes to the Variation Order.
245.12 The Executive, on considering the above information, noted the effects of the Variation Order on access to the papers for members of the Council and for the public and accordingly